For years, the home-buying process looked the same: Find a real estate agent, visit a bunch of places, visit more places, and visit even more places. A decision, an offer, negotiations and closing would follow.
But the advent of the virtual-reality age has the potential to upend some of the cumbersome process.
One Denver startup, Walkthrough, is positioning itself in the increasingly crowded field of companies hoping to shape that future. For CEO Pascal Wagner, it comes down to a simple question: What if real estate agents could show off houses without the hassle — and expense — of driving to each one?
“If we are the company that every Realtor uses to sign their next home, that’s worth a lot,” said Wagner, pointing to the 160 million visitors the online real estate database Zillow says it gets per month.
Walkthrough celebrated its one-year anniversary earlier this month, so it’s not quite in that ballpark. Still, Wagner is satisfied with the company’s growth. He has already brought on 15 employees, raised $325,000 in an angel fundraising round in January, and expanded from Denver to San Francisco, Austin, Cincinnati and New York. He is currently preparing to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 in the company’s initial seed round this fall.
That trajectory has Walkthrough where Wagner and co-founder Jeremy Thiesen wanted to be within a year, but the company still has a lot of catching up to do. Matterport, a leader in the VR-for-real-estate sector, raised $30 million in 2015 and acquired London-based Virtual Walkthrough last year.
But Wagner says Walkthrough has an edge — and it’s not Denver’s red-hot real estate market. Wagner said the demand for homes is actually too high for VR models to be that useful to real estate agents. Wagner was referring to Walkthrough's business model.
“It’s my understanding that we are the only VR company in real estate that is generating money,” he said.
Here’s how it works: For $199, Walkthrough offers real estate agents a package to help them sell a home. They get at least 25 photos, a 3-D home tour and a listing-specific website all within 24 hours.
“We make money through the photography,” Wagner explained. “It makes us super scalable and it’s a way to generate revenue before we make money off the VR.”
Diego Corzo, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Austin, said he hired Walkthrough for eight of his homes and sold each of them in less than two weeks. That’s faster than normal, he said.
Unlike other industries, where VR is an exciting, but uncertain development, real estate appears to offer clear opportunities.
“Realtors are coming to us to see if they can be a part of our beta program instead of us reaching out to them,” Wagner said. “It’s solving a real problem for them. It’s a legitimate use case. It’s not a game where you live and die by how many people have headsets. Realtors get them because it saves them time and pain.”
Corzo said he's been seeing more and more possibilities lately.
“I just got off a call with someone who wants to sell. They are older and they have three dogs. If I say to them, I want to show your house at 3 o’clock, they have to go home, take the dogs out for a walk, and clean up. With this technology, I could send the potential buyers a 3-D walkthrough instead and save everyone the time and effort,” Corzo said. "It’s awesome.”
Wagner and his team are working to bring this “awesome” process to more homes every day.
The Denver Metro Association of Realtors says that there are approximately 5,895 homes on the market, and Walkthrough has mapped approximately 5 percent of them. In San Francisco, where the available housing stock is smaller, Walkthrough has between 25 and 30 percent of the available homes mapped.
Walkthrough also allows potential home-buyers to scan digital models of their own furniture into the VR models of homes in the database.
Bells and whistles aside, some form of VR experience is almost assuredly set to disrupt the real estate industry.
“Eventually, you are going to be able to take your phone and feel what it’s like to be in a new apartment, a new office space, or a new home,” Wagner said. “We want to make it as easy as possible to figure out where you’re going to live next.”